Laura Pope Forester home sees bright future ahead!
The current owners of the Laura Pope Forester home, also known as Mrs. Pope’s Museum and Garden or Pope Store Museum, have been hard at work with the goal of refurbishing the site’s gardens, sculptures, murals, and other works of art. Laura Pope (1900-1953) had built an extraordinary garden around her antebellum rural residence in Ochlocknee, GA, which included over 200 figurative sculptures. Most were three-dimensional, but others were bas-reliefs or busts set into or topping the walls and the elaborate arched gateway on the periphery of her property. She built her works up on a metal infrastructure composed of found objects such as scrap iron and tin cans, later covering them with concrete.
Her subjects, mostly “outstanding individuals of fact and fancy” and mostly female, focused on a diverse and wide-ranging group of significant or iconic women, but there were also figures from tales and legend. Other works included a series of seven faces representing the world’s major religions; thought to have been taken from plaster casts, it has been suggested that they were molded from her friends.
After Laura Pope’s death, the family maintained the property without making significant changes, and for some time it remained a local tourist attraction and roadside curiosity that was supported, in part, by a civic club and Pelham’s Chamber of Commerce. However, in 1974, her only surviving son sold the site to a mill owner from the nearby town of Meigs. He thought that the sculptures had “passed their days of being useful,” so he dismantled and destroyed most of the freestanding works, leaving only some dozen that had been built into the walls. Most of the rest were destroyed in 1981, yet by 1990 several still remained within the garden walls.
By the time the current owners purchased the property and moved on-site in July 2017, the entire property had been severely neglected. Since then, considerable effort and progress has been made to rebrand both the property and Laura Pope Forester's work, as well as to restore the structure of the building. A new nonprofit corporation – Pope’s Museum Preservation, Inc.- has been set up, and they are going through the process of preparing an application to add the home and grounds to the National and Georgia Registers of Historic Places under the categories of art, recreation and leisure, and women's history.